For the record, I feel obligated to state my strong desire that this be the only meeting between the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers this NFL calendar year. Thus, I will not call this a ‘potential Super Bowl matchup’ because I hope that will not happen.
Moving on, let’s talk Saturday from the Houston perspective. Last week, I gave you six names to watch in general. This Saturday, the focus should fall on those needing to improve their play or those who need to continue to consistently deliver after the game against Carolina. Let’s jump to see who gets this spotlight.
When a cut block is missed, you are either (a) not creating the zone scheme’s patented cut-back lane or (b) giving a defender an easy disruption on the zone stretch bootleg. If the quarterback is forced to throw it away early on a bootleg or a running back has nowhere to go, it likely means someone missed a cut block and Butler cannot afford to miss them again.
Kick and Punt Returner Trindon Holliday – Holliday had the play of the game with his 90-yard kick return, but it was his overall kick return performance that should get praise. Still, Holliday is fighting an uphill battle to take a roster spot as a return specialist.
As a specialist, I contend that Holliday needs a consistent preseason of top-level performance to crack the roster. I do not mean performance in terms of touchdowns, though they are nice, but average yards per return on both kicks and punts. For me, that’s top-5/top-10 in the NFL potential, which would put the target, based on 2011 numbers, at around 27 yards per kick return and 11 yards per punt return. On Saturday, Holliday needs to repeat his kick return success and show something on the punt returns.
First-Team Offense – With two turnovers against Carolina, the first-teamers never had an opportunity to get into gear. Getting into gear will be even more difficult against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but it will also provide a very nice warm-up to go against the vaunted 49er defense as Matt Schaub continues to knock off the rust and Arian Foster rounds himself into game shape. The starters should go about a quarter, maybe a quarter-and-a-half, before ceding way to the second-team.
Wide Receiver DeVier Posey – I do not expect Posey to be Keshawn Martin, but he was largely silent last week. Juaquin Iglesias and Jeff Maehl had more of an impact than him, so the third-rounder needs to pick it up a bit if he wants to lock down spot five in the receiving corps.
Outside Linebackers Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus – There is not a formal competition for a starting role and that may even be moot in a rotation, but these two young bulls have to know snaps may be up for grabs here…especially if Mercilus continues to surprise and impress. I hope they play a season-long game of "Anything you can do, I can do better."
Cornerback Kareem Jackson – Jackson played well in limited action against Carolina and has had a strong week of practice so far. His week has been so good that the hype machine went to work on him Tuesday. You get the spotlight when you are hyped, so Jackson’s progress will be monitored even though San Francisco’s receiving corps is not, say, Green Bay’s.
I know this is a mere preseason game, but I will also keep my eyes on the Reliant Stadium crowd. This fan base is in near-frenzy after last year’s success. Tickets sold out quickly and record crowds showed up for training camp. With the first taste of 2012 professional football in Houston, I am pretty curious to see how the fans will react while the first team is out there handling business.
P.S: Andre Johnson, please make it out of this game healthy, okay?
P.P.S: Shelley Smith, please play well and live up to all the hype I generated about you earlier this week.